South Carolina Supreme Court Allows Enforcement of Unpromulgated Rule

Posted on February 3, 2010 by Thomas Lavender, Jr.

In a unanimous decision, the S.C. Supreme Court upheld the implementation of South Carolina’s Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) and finally decided the question landowners have argued for years – how could the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) enforce an unpromulgated rule?[1] 

 

The developer in the Spectre case had sought a land-disturbance permit under the SCDHEC stormwater program. The agency denied the permit contending that the proposed filling of 31.76 acres of isolated freshwater wetlands on a 62.93 acre site was inconsistent with the CZMP. An appeal of the denial was taken to the State Administrative Law Court, which held that the CZMP was not enforceable because it was not a regulation promulgated pursuant to the State’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA).[2] 

 

Following the United State Supreme Court’s decision in SWANCC[3], isolated wetlands in South Carolina have been largely without protection. South Carolina has seen the introduction of several bills aimed to fill the void by expressly authorizing the regulation of impacts to isolated wetlands; however, none are pending in the current session of the General Assembly. Nonetheless, in those areas covered by the CZMP, South Carolina relied upon its authority to determine consistency with the CZMP in connection with the consideration of state permits. Isolated wetlands beyond the reach of the CZMP remain unregulated. However, numerous attacks on the validity of the CZMP have been made, but none reaching the Supreme Court until Spectre.

 

SCDHEC was charged in 1976 with developing a comprehensive coastal management program that it was to enforce “in accordance with this chapter and any rules and regulations promulgated under this chapter.”[4] The statute provided that statewide hearings and public review of the CZMP would occur and the CZMP would become the “final management plan for the State’s coastal zone” upon review and approval by the Governor and General Assembly. 

 

The Court went to great lengths to distinguish the Spectre decision from its previous holdings relating to the imposition of requirements by means other than properly promulgated regulations.[5] In spite of numerous references to the necessity of SCDHEC to adopt regulations to implement its coastal program[6], the Court concluded that the “General Assembly did not believe it was meant to be an unenforceable document.” Despite the fact that the statute specifically mandated SCDHEC to adopt interim and final rules it would follow in evaluating permits, and expressly provided that such final rules must be promulgated pursuant to the APA[7], the Court concluded that the General Assembly had created a “separate and more rigorous procedure for promulgation of the CZMP.” Moreover, since SCDHEC had developed the CZMP in accordance with those specified procedures, “the plan is valid.” 

It remains unclear where the Court will stop in crafting exclusions to the APA, but it now appears that the Court is prepared to conclude that a separate process by which a policy document is developed can be deemed functionally equivalent to the APA and afford an unpromulgated rule the force and effect of law.



[1] Spectre, LLC v. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, et al., (Opinion No. 26764, February 1, 2010).

[2] S.C. Code Ann. §§ 1-23-10, et seq. (2009).

[3] Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 12 S.Ct. 675, 531 U.S. 159, 148 L.Ed.2d 576 (2001).

[4] SC Code Ann. § 48-39-80 (2009).

[5] Captain’s Quarters Motor Inn, Inc. v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 306 S.C. 488, 413 S.E.2d 13 (1992).

[6] S.C. Code Ann. §§ 48-39-50(E), (F), (I), and (R), -70(A), -80(A), and -130(B).

[7] S.C. Code Ann. § 48-39-130(B) also provided that the interim rules and regulations were not subject to the APA.



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